In Sheila Yasmin Marikar’s Friends In Napa, College Friends Go Feral

The author’s sophomore novel sees old pals reunite, with disastrous results.

by Sibani Ram
Sheila Yasmin Marikar's new book, 'Friends in Napa,' is being released by Mindy Kaling's Book Studio...

Back in October 2022, Sheila Yasmin Marikar was on a flight from New York to LA, and feeling good after launching her debut novel, the wellness industry satire The Goddess Effect. “As I was walking through the cabin, I saw Mindy [Kaling],” the author tells Bustle. “I felt this has to be a sign, [so] I’m just gonna give [my book] to her and see what happens.” So she approached Kaling, who politely paused her in-flight entertainment and accepted the gift.

Less than two years later, Kaling’s imprint, Mindy’s Book Studio, is releasing Marikar’s second book. “I knew I wanted to try to work with Sheila if she ever wrote a sophomore novel and luckily enough, she wrote Friends in Napa,” Kaling tells Bustle via email.

The new novel features a cast of six Cornell University alumni who reunite to celebrate the opening of their friends’ ritzy new Napa Valley vineyard. Against this backdrop, the college friends — now living vastly different lives, with careers in management consulting, magazine editing, and social media influencing, to name a few — wonder about what could have been, had things gone differently.

Oh, and there’s a murder. The dead body shows up on the first page: a “dry cleaner’s nightmare.” As in The White Lotus — one of Marikar’s inspirations — readers slowly piece together who’s behind the act.

Courtesy of Mindy's Book Studio

Rather than lingering on the violent spectacle, though, the author turns her attention to her characters, eventually showing how even the most inhumane of acts may have humane motives.

“There is some dark stuff happening in Friends in Napa, but it’s also a story of how friendships evolve and change over time — what keeps people together and what tears them apart,” she says.

While the author herself has never been at the center of a murder mystery, Friends in Napa is still very personal. To build out the novel, she drew from her days as an Indian American student at Cornell, her experience writing about Napa Valley for national outlets like The New York Times and The New Yorker, and previous interracial relationships. She writes skillfully about parental pressures for material success and the challenges of interracial marriage.

“Readers want to see themselves reflected in the stories they’re choosing; they want to see joy, love, irreverence, hope.”

The “traditionally underrepresented” perspective is part of what drew Kaling in. “Readers want to see themselves reflected in the stories they’re choosing; they want to see joy, love, irreverence, hope,” Kaling says, adding, “It’s my responsibility and privilege through Mindy’s Book Studio to make that experience more accessible across the board.”

Although South Asian readers might relate the most to Marikar’s characters, anyone who’s stayed close to their college friends will feel seen by Friends in Napa — the novel does its best work in its examination of its characters’ long-held grievances. Anyone can go feral when they’re tired of being pushed around.